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Al-Qaeda’s Terrorist Threat to UNIFIL

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On August 11, 2006, in response to the 34-day summer war between Israel and Hizb’allah, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1701, which called for a more robust international military presence along the United Nations-drawn Blue Line dividing Israel and southern Lebanon. But the strengthened United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is likely to face a range of security threats that could undermine its peacekeeping duties and endanger its personnel. Among the more serious threats, underscored by intelligence reports over the past few years that indicate a growing al-Qaeda presence in Lebanon, is a catastrophic terrorist attack against UNIFIL by local salafist jihadist entities.

UNIFIL IS WORRIED

Since its deployment, UNIFIL has publicly voiced concerns about a terrorist attack by al-Qaeda, not Hizb’allah, against its troops.1 These legitimate concerns have been reinforced by stern (yet unsubstantiated) warnings issued by Lebanese, Israeli and Western officials about al-Qaeda’s growing presence in Lebanon.2 For UNIFIL, the ongoing violent clashes between al-Qaeda inspired Islamic militants and the Lebanese Army, which erupted May 20 in northern Lebanon, have only heightened its sense of insecurity.

Concerned about the safety of their troops, UNIFIL commanders do not have the necessary intelligence resources to protect against a terrorist attack. Lacking clear authority to engage in counterterrorism or intelligence gathering activities, UNIFIL is forced to rely on the cooperation of a relatively weak Lebanese security apparatus (whose competency is seriously hampered by the polarized political environment).3 Yet without solid data and objective threat assessments supplied by its host state, UNIFIL has only official reports which are largely unreliable, unfocused assessments from UN headquarters in New York, and fiery statements by al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri, urging al-Qaeda allies in Lebanon to fight Security Council Resolution 1701.4

Authors

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Bilal Y. Saab

Senior Research Assistant, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

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Magnus Ranstorp

Research Director, The Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College

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